February jobs – garlic and rhubarb

I had a couple of days of annual leave to use up at the end of Feb, so I seized the chance to  be child free at the allotment and get some proper jobs done.

Job number 1 – plant garlic

I’ve had good success with garlic in previous years, and would recommend anyone to give it a try.  It has been far kinder to me than onions, which have bolted and rotted and generally been a disappointment.  Also, onions are so darn cheap in the supermarket that it makes little sense to put much importance on having them in the plot. Home-grown garlic, on the other hand, are definitely more flavoursome than their commercial counterparts, and cheaper (although not by much).

This year, I have two different types to grow:

1. Sultop.  This is a hard-necked garlic.  All I know at the moment, is that hard-necked means you can’t store it for a long time.  I will report back on how well it fares.

For £4.50 I got 2 enormous bulbs, with a total of 29 cloves to plant.  Some of the cloves were intimidatingly large, so I will be interested to see if they produce seriously large bulbs or not.

Sultop Garlic

Hard neck, but easy to grow

2. Solent Wight.  This is a soft-necked garlic.  Soft-necked garlics are the ones which you can plait together and wear to a Francophile fancy dress party.  About 3 years ago we got a bumper crop of soft-necked ones and Chris spent a happy evening plaiting them with the help of this blog.  If I remember correctly we managed about 8-10 bulbs per plait rather than the 16 shown in Gillybean’s photo.

For £4.50 I got 2 bulbs, which gave up an impressive 44 cloves.  If they all survive, then that puts them at a cost of just over 10p per bulb, which is considerably cheaper than the supermarket.  I suspect that there won’t be as many giant Solent Wights as Sultops.

Je suis un grand ail.

Je suis un grand ail.

Job number 2 – split up rhubarb crowns

Our rhubarb patch has never, ever, failed us.  Every year it sprouts from April to October, giving it the longest yield of any other plant on the plot.  This means we will go through several periods of rhubarb bounty, pulling up kilos and kilos of stalks, more than 1 family could ever eat.  Really it needs a good culling to get rid of the oldest, largest crowns and give the wee young buds a chance to show their stuff.

I read that it was OK to split up crowns in late winter, so this job needed to be done before the plants started growing properly again and would get distressed by all the upheaval. I can tell you now that the process of splitting a crown is exceedingly distressing:

Assess your crown.  i have 6 crowns, all of which have at least 20 buds on them.  I could see the oldest part of the crown right in the centre, it was hollow where the master stalk had grown and bolted (gone to seed).  I have no idea what species of rhubarb they are but I can see a couple of the crowns are ‘earlies’ as they had a couple of buds already pushing out tiny stalks.

Choose how to split.  I decided to break the crown up into smaller groups of between 2 and 6 buds, with at least one strong one.  There weren’t many natural breaks between buds which I could use as guidance for splitting, so inevitably some buds were lost in the process

Get digging.  each mini crown being split away from its mother crown was dug out about the depth of the spade itself to try and keep some roots still attached.  I’d expected this to be fairly hard work but the root of a rhubarb crown is fairly soft, it reminded me of rotten wood.

Replant.  From the six old crowns, i left one alone.  Another two were completely lifted out as they were in awkward positions on the patch anyway – hanging over the path and in the way of the blackcurrant bush.  The other three were replanted – as 8 smaller, newer and neater crowns – with about 20 buds between them.  With it being so mild and damp, they went back into the soil happily, with no need to do much other than firm up the soil around them.

Get giving.  by the end of the session, there was around 30 mini crowns without a home.   Some of the booty shown below.  I shall be handing them out to friends, family and anyone else who shows even the mildest level of interest.  Any takers?


rhubarb crowns

Buds peeping through… the pink jewels in the crown

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